In an ideal world, I would conclude a workout feeling invigorated, my face shimmering with dewy perspiration. I would have ample time for post-workout cool-down exercises and be able to achieve a state of inner peace through a few beginner-level yoga poses. Then, I would sip on a delectable smoothie with an optimal balance of protein and carbohydrates, and effortlessly proceed to the shower equipped with all my preferred bath products.
In reality, most workouts leave me exhausted with a flushed face, dripping sweat, and in a rush — to put it mildly. I might just bend down to touch my toes and consider it sufficient for my “cool-down stretches,” before hastily entering a cold shower and starting the day with an empty stomach and damp hair. Not exactly the epitome of post-workout excellence.
The ideal post-gym routine is easier said than done, but if you find yourself pondering what to do after a workout or what takes precedence when time is limited, fear not. First and foremost, understand that the initial 30 minutes or so following a workout are typically as crucial as the workout itself. How you recover, replenish, and rejuvenate yourself for everyday life and all the future demands you will place on your body deserve utmost attention on your priority list.
Here are the three most crucial actions to take immediately-ish after your workout. Therefore, if you neglect everything else, prioritize these steps.
What to Do After a Workout
Step 1: Stretch and Mobilize
The first item on your post-workout agenda: Stretch while your muscles are still warm. “You must stretch before the muscles have time to cool down, which takes 30-40 minutes,” suggests Jordan D. Metzl, M.D., a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “Once the muscles cool down, they contract, and attempting to loosen them up can lead to injury,” he advises.
Dr. Metzl advocates for at least five minutes of stretching after a workout, followed by an additional five minutes of using a foam roller to smooth out any knots and promote proper recuperation. “A total of ten minutes is realistic for most individuals.” Give the Trigger Point Therapy GRID Foam Roller a try (Purchase it, $37, dickssportinggoods.com).
Step 2: Cleanse and Change Your Attire
As enticing as it might be to simply perform a swift cleanse, it is advisable to take a shower following a workout — particularly if you intended on remaining in your exercise attire for an extended period. All the perspiration generated during your workout will result in the accumulation of bacteria and yeast. Therefore, if you refrain from showering, you will not rid yourself of these microorganisms and may encounter an elevated risk of irritation and infection, as previously stated by Deirdre Hooper, M.D., a dermatologist at Audubon Dermatology in New Orleans, LA, in an interview with Shape.
However, if circumstances prevent you from showering immediately after exercising, Neal Schultz, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City and the founder of BeautyRx Skincare, offers some advice. He states, “If washing is not possible, promptly change out of damp clothes.” Dr. Schultz goes on to explain that moist garments create an ideal environment for germs, bacteria, fungus, and yeast to thrive, which could lead to skin infections or breakouts. He emphasizes that the amount of time it takes to change isn’t crucial, as long as it doesn’t exceed thirty minutes.
In the event that you are unable to shower and have forgotten spare clothes, Dr. Schultz suggests dampening a towel with water and gently patting your body. Then, use a dry towel to absorb as much moisture as possible in a pinch. “By eliminating the moisture, bacteria will be unable to multiply,” he assures.
If your primary concern is preventing breakouts, it is actually more important to cleanse your face prior to exercising, rather than immediately after your workout. Dr. Schultz recommends removing makeup and cleansing your face or using a cleansing wipe. To ensure convenience while on the go, consider adding Carpe Sweat Absorbing Face Wipes to your gym bag. They are available for purchase at mycarpe.com for $22. (By the way, if you wish to wear makeup during your workout, utilize sweat-proof makeup products as detailed on shape.com.)
Step 3: Replenish for Recovery
Last but certainly not least on your post-workout agenda is making sure to consume food within thirty minutes. Mitzi Dulan, R.D., C.S.S.D., a nutrition spokesperson, author, influencer, and trainer, advises, “This will optimize recovery, mitigate muscle soreness, and enhance your performance during your workout the following day.” She further explains that the thirty-minute timeframe represents the peak opportunity for muscle rebuilding and replenishment. However, it is worth noting that delaying refueling for up to forty-five minutes should not dissuade you. As long as you consume something within two hours after your workout, your body will still benefit. Research indicates that your body’s ability to replenish muscle stores diminishes by 50 percent after that point.
Irrespective of your fitness goals, your body necessitates the intake of macronutrients, specifically protein and carbohydrates, to refuel.
Some options that are ready to eat include Setton Farms Pistachio Chewy Bites, Koia’s plant-based low glycemic protein shakes, or Good Foods Cranberry Almond Chicken Salad. You can also prepare something yourself such as a salad with garbanzo beans or an omelet with sauteed vegetables.
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